popSLATE is officially done, I was sad to wake up this morning and find an email in my inbox which went into the details of the recent troubles they have been having over popSLATE 2.
I have written about popSLATE 2 on several occasions, first when I found out about the device last March and then again when I decided to pull my backing later in the year and as for a refund.
Following my post about the disastrous Indiegogo campaign, there were a number of people who had also backed the project who reached out asking if I had contact with popSLATE founders, how I got a refund or just to also vent their own frustrations.
A little background for anyone who is unaware of the story. Following the success of popSLATE 1, the team behind the project announced popSLATE 2 last year in March and it looked fantastic.
The idea was to create a new type of iPhone case which had an E-ink display on the back and gave access to things like widgets, ebooks, and a whole lot more. The project was sucessfully funded on March 31st 2016 and raised $1,117,836.
11 months ago the founders posted an update on their indigogo page showing a trip to Asia and hands on images of a prototype were also shared. A month later they posted an update which mentioned the Apple MFi tests, keep that in mind for later on.
So it all seemed pretty promising and then the problems started.
The Problems With popSLATE 2
9 months ago an update was provided stating that the project would be delayed. The founders gave the following reason:
“After extensive testing, we concluded this week that our existing material is insufficient for the job, and we are aggressively working to implement the replacement material. The solution also requires some changes to the mechanical design. We therefore must push out the fulfillment timeline accordingly.”
The shipping date was pushed back to October and then the updates went silent for two months. It was around this time that I felt something wasn’t quite right and one day I logged onto their page in August and saw that people had started asking for refunds. Something about the project and the nature of their updates and how they had been worded didn’t sit right and I also decided to request a refund while they were giving refunds.
Shortly after receiving a refund and no longer being a backer, I kept an eye on the project and noticed an update saying they were back on track and that the problems they were encountering with the materials they were using had been solved. At this time they said they were on track to ship in October.
My decision to pull backing was soon confirmed to me as being the right choice. There was some talk about a possible hybrid model for the new iPhone 7 and they they moved back to the original plan deciding a hybrid model wouldn’t work.
Then, 5 months ago, an update was given which announced another delay to shipping. This one blamed a problem with the power managment and stated that the popSLATE was not delivering a reliable 2 amps to the iPhone for charging.
The 6 series was delayed to late September and the 7 series delayed to late February of the following year. Thought the problems were over? Well a lot of people had lost confidence and their page was full of requests for refunds and then another update arrived 3 months ago, for me it was a shock.
Apple MFi Testing
In order to sell third party accessories to the public, manufacturers are required to undertake a rigourous Made For iPhone (MFi) test. This is required for products which are leveraging key proprietary components. In the case of popSLATE, they connect to the iPhone through the lightening port and as a result are required to undertake this test.
They failed the over the air (OTA) testing. This part of the test is designed to ensure that accessories do not excessively degrade the Apple device’s RF transmission efficiency or its reception sensitivity. They noted they were surprised and backers should have been surprised too because if you remember — it was 7 months before the MFi test results being disclosed that they had mentioned in an update about how important it was to pass the MFi test and how tough the test was, they were well aware of what they would be facing.
They mentioned that they did not know the root cause of failure and testing would have to be carried out and it could take up to 12 weeks. It was at this time that refunds were also stopped.
A month ago, an update was shared showing popSLATE 2 in action. A video was shown of someone installing the popSLATE 2 device and another showed someone using the popSLATE 2 functions. With all this in mind, it seemed after massive delays that something was near to completion. That is what makes last nights email even more surprising.
The popSLATE 2 Vision Is Officially Over
Last night backers received an email which read as follows:
Critical Company Update
This update provides serious and unwelcome news.
Based upon your support, we have spent the last year continuing to develop our vision for “always-on” mobile solutions. Our goal was to solve three fundamental issues with today’s smartphones: we wanted to simplify access to information, increase battery performance, and improve readability. Unfortunately, the significant development hurdles that we have encountered have completely depleted our finances, and we have been unable to raise additional funds in the current market. As a result, popSLATE does not have a viable business path forward.
This marks the end of a 5-year journey for our team, which started with a seed of an idea in 2012 and led to our quitting our jobs to start the company. Although we are very disappointed by the ultimate outcome and its implications for you as our backers, we are proud of our team, who worked tirelessly over the years to commercialize the first plastic ePaper display, globally ship thousands of popSLATE 1 devices as a first-in-category product, and re-imagine & further extend the platform with the second generation product. Despite a strong vision, high hopes, and very hard work, we find ourselves at the end of the journey.
We are out of money at this juncture for two key reasons. First, we have spent heavily into extensive development and preparation for manufacturing; as you are aware, we hit some critical issues that multiplied the required spend, as described in previous updates.
Most recently, we learned that the fix for the Apple OTA issues would involve more significant redesign. While we initially suspected that the Lightning circuit was the culprit, it turned out that it was a much more fundamental issue. Namely, our housing material is not compatible with Apple OTA requirements. You may think, “Wait, isn’t it just plastic? Why would that be a problem?” While the housing is indeed largely plastic, we used a very special custom blend of materials that included glass fibers. The glass fibers were used to solve two issues, both of which were related to making the device super-thin: a) they enabled uniform, non-distortional cooling of the housing mold around our metal stiffener plate (the key component that makes popSLATE 2 thin but very strong) and b) they added tensile strength to the very compact form factor. Unfortunately, we have concluded that these added fibers are attenuating the RF signal and that we would have to spend additional cycles to tune a new blend with required modifications to the tooling. This is an expensive and timely process.
Second, we have been unsuccessful at raising additional financing, despite having vigorously pursued all available avenues since the close of our March Indiegogo campaign (including angels, VCs, Shark Tank and equity crowdfunding, both in the US and abroad). Many in our network of fellow hardware innovators have encountered this difficult new reality. You may have also seen the very public financial struggles of big-name consumer hardware companies — GoPro, Fitbit, Pebble, Nest and others — as highlighted in this recent New York Times article [link]. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon is the recent and sudden shutting down of Pebble, paragon of past crowdfunding success.
There is no way to sugarcoat what this all means:
popSLATE has entered into the legal process for dissolution of the company
Your popSLATE 2 will not be fulfilled
There is no money available for refunds
This will be our final update
While this is a very tough moment professionally and emotionally for us, it is obviously extremely disappointing for all of you who had believed in the popSLATE vision. Many of you have been with us since the March campaign, and a smaller set helped found the popSLATE community back in 2012. To you — our family, friends, and other unwavering backers — we are incredibly grateful for your enthusiasm, ideas, and support throughout the years. Just as importantly, we deeply regret letting you down and not being able to deliver on our promise to you. We truly wish there were a viable path forward for product fulfillment and the broader popSLATE vision, but sadly we have exhausted all available options.
Yashar & Greg
The long and short of it is that the popSLATE team are out of money. They have disclosed in the email what caused them to fail the MFi test, while the device is largely plastic they also used a custom blend of materials which included glass fibres.
These fibres are what affected the RF signal and to fix the problem would involve a major and radical redesign. They have been unsuccessful with securing additional funding which tells you that not only have indiegogo backers lost faith, but so have the investors.
The email mentions the financial struggles of other companies but I don’t know why, they were funded and then some. Of course there were big struggles along the way but at the start of the project the money was there to get a product to market.
As the email says, there is no way to sugarcoat it:
- There will be no popSLATE 2
- There is no money for refunds
- It is their final update
A Sad End For A Product That Showed So Much Promise
Even though I asked for a refund and stopped being a backer some time ago, it is sad to see a product with so much potential not make it to the market. They have taken a lot of heat over the past number of months from angry backers and I don’t blame any of those backers for feeling the way they do. They gave up their hard earned $$ for something which failed to materialise.
Some have reached out to me and called it all a scam, when I reflect on that I don’t believe it to be the case. Coming towards the past number of months the updates from the company have been a lot less frequent, it is almost like they decided to stop communicating with the community that had given the support at the start.
I believe more than anything else that the project and finances were poorly managed. Some might claim that it is easy for me to say that, you are dead right it is easy for me to say. But I am not asking you for your hard earned $$ to back a project.
I get it that they wanted to persevere and push on to the very end but I personally believe that this product died a few months ago with that MFi test. It is easy to say that I think they should have killed it then and there, not wasted money on testing and investigating the MFi results and tried to honour as many refunds as possible. Sure, easy for me to say and I am certain if I was involved in something like this it would not be as easy to do.
When I saw the initial update about the MFi test, knowing that they had talked about MFi months beforehand and still failed it without knowing or understanding the problem at the time. I knew that there was a 99.9% chance it would never see the market. I also believe it was poorly managed as other products which are even higher in complexity seem set to hit the market:
The Problem With Crowdfunding
Here is the problem with crowdfunding that a lot of people are missing. Really, it is a leap of faith and there are no promises it will work out. It is a smaller scale of people who invest millions in products and companies and end up losing it all. They don’t get refunds either.
I have to say this, credit to popSLATE for honouring refunds at all, they didn’t have to do it. That was a choice they made and indiegogo doesn’t state that refunds have to be given to backers.
I understand the anger and frustration, but at the same time it is a leap of faith and when you back a project for a new innovative product there is no promise that it will make it to market.
It is a shame that the popSLATE 2 won’t get there, I was so interested when I first saw it, I wouldn’t have backed it otherwise but unfortunately there were more problems than I think anyone on that team would have anticipated.
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